Wednesday, December 26, 2007

'Twas the Day After Christmas

'Twas the week after Christmas and all through the Strait, all the parents and shoppers like me celebrate. "Why so late?" you might ask. "Why the lengthy delay? All the good stuff is over. Why, it's Boxing Day!"
Now don't get me wrong, 'cause I'm far from a Grinch. I have kids, so I have to give more than an inch. My village is out, all my Christmas cards sent, and God knows a truckload of money's been spent. The manger scene sits there, as well as the tree; yes, that 'ol Martha Stewart has nothin' on me. While it sounds picturesque, and while some parts were fun, you're looking at one girl who's glad it's all done.
And so why am I so glad the season is over?
Quite simple.
It's because it starts in October.
Not all "big days" hang there like this Christmas loomed. By the time Halloween came, I knew I was doomed. I went to the mall, and much to my chagrin, there were Santas where all of the costumes had been. And what of the candy? Where'd all of that go? Instead there were aisles full of lights and fake snow. And then, to my horror, the loudspeaker hurled a cheery rendition of "Joy to the World". I just wasn't ready, that's all there was to it. I nearly picked up a glass reindeer and threw it! I wanted to ask them, "what's with all the rush?", as the shelf-stockers stocked shelves with stockings of plush. But it was too late, 'cause the ball was now rolling. The shoppers were thrilled with the aisles they were trolling.
And so it began, the hypnosis of cheer, when smart people are turned into zombies each year. It's just like a movie, to watch it take place. Every single thing changes; it's quite a disgrace. Suddenly shopping turns into a job, costing three times as much, in the midst of the mob. We fill up our carts with a big goofy smile, and the big wigs are laughing at us all the while. It's the flip side where things become really quite sad, when we, young and old, start behaving so bad. Sweet little old ladies, so gentle at heart, become monsters who will run you down with their cart. To get the last Bratz doll (for which he'll overpay), a father will hip-check you out of the way. The workers are short, as they look on the shelf, and may very well tell you to "find it yourself". And just when you think that things couldn't get worse, when you're sure you'll end up in the back of a hearse....with your two kids in tow, maybe even your Grandma - you remember you have to go to Dollarama. With that single thought, down your cheek rolls a tear. Is there anywhere worse to be this time of year? If there is, I can tell you that I haven't found it. Whenever we leave there, one of my kids are grounded.
Long gone are the days where the kids want some blocks, or a new Crazy Carpet, or navy-blue Crocs. Instead, when they make it up on Santa's knee, they ask for a laptop and Playstation 3. We buy mine nice presents, both me and my spouse, but nothing requiring us to mortgage our house.
Then how 'bout the grand event of Christmas dinner? That thing should be outlawed, it makes you no thinner. You all get together, your uncles, your brother, the whole bunch, pretending to all like each other. You've gained 15lbs and when meal time has passed, you're still faced with those dirty dishes, en masse.
And let's not forget the big night at the school. Part of me wants it cancelled, there should be a rule, or at least a good system to get us all through it. I really don't know how all those teachers do it. The kids are so cute, as they're singing their song - too bad the whole concert is nine hours long. It might sound quite scroogy, but between you and me, there isn't a parent who doesn't agree.
So here we are now, at the end of the season. If I seem a bit chipper, you now know the reason. I so don't hate Christmas, don't get that impression, I just understand why it leads to depression. As soon as the novelty wears off, we're fine, but while we're in the zone, we're all losing our minds. Once the garland and glitter is out of the stores, once the grandiose visions seep out of our pores, once the great expectations have all came and went, we'll be back to ourselves and preparing for Lent. Please take this short story and try to remember - here's hoping next year it won't start in September.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The universally accepted truth: men and women do not understand each other. We're wired differently. Countless hours and years and lifetimes have been spent trying to figure each other out, to no avail.
Being married, I can discipher a great deal of "male code", but I am in no position to give insight into the mind of someone else's husband. I've got my own live-in male brain to figure out, so ladies, you're on your own. Good luck.
I can, however, throw the guys a bone.
The following is a rough translation of Female English. These translations are approximate, and will vary in detail and intensity from woman to woman.

She says: Nothing is wrong, I'm fine.
She means: There's plenty wrong, I'm anything but fine, and you have about thirty seconds to figure out why and fix it, unless you want my mood to worsen exponentially.

She says: Do you want to watch a movie?
She means: Do you want to watch a movie with characters, a plot, and minimal explosions/gunfighting/female nudity?

She says: Do we have a step ladder?
She means: I'm going to paint the living room tomorrow while you're at work, and even if you don't like the color, it will be too much work for you to change it.

She says: You're blue sweater? It's hanging in your closet, for once.
She means: I found it under the bed, and if you don't start picking up your clothes, I'm going to throw them all away.

She says: Did anyone call while I was out yesterday?
She means: I know Susan called while I was out yesterday, so if you can't take and deliver messages, let the machine pick up.

She says: I don't care, go out tonight if you want to.
She means: I'm not telling you to go out, I'm giving you the opportunity to prefer to stay home with me. I obviously don't want you to go out, and I will make you miserable for days if you do. Choose carefully.

She says: Does this outfit look ok?
She means: I wouldn't be out here modeling for you if I didn't think it looked good, so please tell me it's incredible, or I'll probably tear my closet apart in a rage and end up staying home and pouting all night.

She says: Kate's husband bought her the most beautiful flowers, you should see them, they're blue roses.
She means: I want you to buy me flowers, please. (The "please" part is variable, depending on mood and length of time that has elapsed since she last received a bouquet of flowers)

She says: How was supper?
She means: It took me two hours to cook that, amidst screaming children and chaos, so you'd better say it was delicious or tomorrow we'll be having Kraft Dinner.

She says: Who was that scantily-scad, buxom knock-out you were hugging?
She means: That better have been your long-lost cousin.

She says: I'm going to get my hair done tomorrow.
She means: We'll be $120 poorer tomorrow, and you probably won't even be able to tell what I got done to my hair.

She says: Work was a nightmare today.
She means: I can't wait to tell you the story about the photocopier mishap, how I spilled my coffee, and how Marcy complained about her cramps all day. It's your job to pretend all of this is interesting, the way I do when you talk about power tools being on sale at Canadian Tire.

She says: My friend from high school got engaged.
She means: On July 14th of next year, you'll find yourself wearing uncomfortable clothes and smiling at a room full of people you don't know.

She says: We need to talk.
She means: You need to listen.

Now, in my defense, I do not base these simulated conversations on life experience (well, the majority of them, anyway). My husband doesn't have it nearly that bad, but these examples, however accurate, are an unpleasant reality for many husbands and boyfriends. Take heart, gentlemen; we love you, and we'll go as easy on you as we can. We know you don't understand us but, luckily for you, that doesn't stop us from trying to show you how.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Those Flower Pins"

I got my Remembrance Day poppy a few days ago. There was an older man, dressed in a Legion uniform, giving them out at the grocery store, and he smiled at me when I put a few dollars in his container.

When I was young, Remembrance Day was the day for which we had a big assembly in school. The day our teacher would hand out poppies after lunch. The day men in uniforms would come to our school, show us all their medals, and give a sad speech. The day one student got picked to go lay a wreath at the front of the gymnasium. Once the assembly was over, we went home, had a day off school, and then it was back to business as usual.

Even as I got older, war was just something I studied in Terry Clements' history class. My grandfather was enlisted in World War 2, though, being in communications in Halifax, he was never deployed overseas, so I didn't hear any horror stories. A friend of mine served in Rwanda, but he came home years ago, and without a visible scratch. Like so many others, because my life was never really impacted by war, I viewed war as something that happened long before my time.

As I was putting on my poppy, a little girl behind me asked her mother what "those flower pins" were for, and the lady replied, "to remember the all men and women who died in the war a long time ago." Unfortunately, she's only somewhat correct about the "long time ago" part.

Today we live in a different world. War is no longer something that took place 75 years ago, that we study in history class. It's happening right now.
You don't have to be in support of any current war to be in support of the people who are fighting in it. I'll leave my opinions of George W. Bush and the wars in the Middle East for another day, but I can tell you with certainty that, in no way does my opposition of the "War on Terror" compromise my high regard for the courageous people who risk their lives over there. I think it's a shame that men and women, young and old, have put their faith and trust in leaders who, with ulterior motives, lie their country into war and conflict. But history will show, those leaders will be looked down upon, and not those who followed them.

All over Nova Scotia, on November 11th (and every other day), people will be remembering their recently lost loved ones, and praying for their family members who are fighting abroad as we speak. Maybe also for their great-great-grandfather, who was lost in World War 1, or their mother's uncle who died in World War 2, or their neighbor's late husband who died in Vietnam, but also, and perhaps more immediately, for those soldiers at war right now. The 35-year-old fathers from Greenwood who have left a wife and two small children behind. The 43-year-old brothers from River Bourgeois who have been in Afghanistan for five years. The 29-year-old daughters from Sydney who have spent most of their adult lives in the Middle East. The husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends of people all over our region. War is more than ancient history, it's reality.

This is to take nothing away from the Veterans of WW1 and WW2. These brave men and women did the same kind of fighting that we see on the news every night, and should always be revered and honored, regardless of how long ago it was. When I see a smiling Veteran, handing out poppies at the grocery store, I often think he must be shaking his head at our obliviousness. Everything he went through, the sacrifices he made, the victory he helped win - and some little punk casually leaves a quarter in his jar, grabs a poppy, and walks away. I think we should all make it a point to acknowledge those Legionnaires, out of respect. Say hello. Smile. Talk to them. It doesn't hurt, I promise. Were it not for them, we might not be out buying groceries, we might be chowing down on rations of Hiltler Sticks and Nazi Nuggets.

Remembrance Day is more than just a holiday, a long weekend, a day off work. It's a time for us to contemplate how lucky we are, to honour those who weren't so lucky, and to acknowledge those who have to pray for luck and survival every day. It's so easy for us to forget, but on November 11th, it's our job to Remember.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Devil Wears Puma

I've never been a big fan of "The View". A bunch of female know-it-alls, celebrity big-mouths, nosy windbags, all talking over each other in a mass frenzy, making a TV show that sounds like Friday night bingo at the St. Peter's Lion's Hall. Too much noise for Tuesday at noon, thank you very much. Still, when I occasionally get a break from Treehouse, I sometimes tune in (for lack of any alternative).

"The View" has played a merciless game of musical chairs with it's hosts, and has changed the lineup of "regular members" more often than Destiny's Child. The original cast was tolerable-ish, with their various Master's degrees, at least demonstrating maturity, professionalism, and restraint most of the time. Unfortunately, that changed seasons ago, when ABC started thinning the herd of intelligent people and replacing them with morons.

Case in point: Barbara Walters, in her infinite genius, hired Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

Maybe she seemed harmless in an intellectually-useless kind of way. After all, when she started her stint on "The View", she openly admitted to being uninformed about politics, and just generally naive and inexperienced in life. She probably served as a great ratings-magnet; a pretty young girl from a popular TV show, yahoo! Whatever the reasoning, there she sits, and therein lies the problem.

I can't say with certainty, but in my opinion, there is good reason to believe that Elisabeth Hasselbeck is the stupidest, most ignorant person alive.

I haven't decided if her harping and ranting is the most annoying and mindless noise pollution ever recorded, or if it is perhaps the finest comedy on daytime television. A bad case of foot-in-mouth disease at best. Rosie was obnoxious, but at least she made valid points that she could back up with facts. Elisabeth, whose impeccable credentials include a season on the most contrived reality show in history (where she came 4th), a degree in Fine Arts (majoring in "large paintings"...WTF?? That's a major???), and designing sneakers for Puma, has suddenly become the voice of a nation? An expert in governmental affairs, ethics, and foreign policy? LMAO...I don't think so, dear. A few months in the wilderness without shaving your legs and judging the Miss Teen USA pageant only makes you an expert in irrelevance.

Here's just one example of her rationale, my personal favorite little nugget of wisdom from the incomparable Mrs. Einstein herself: On the topic of lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18, Elisabeth disagrees with the idea, but thinks the law should allow 18-year-old soldiers returning from Iraq to drink at their leisure. Also, while they're at it, the government should design a program to wean high school students into drinking, so that they can properly gauge their alcohol tolerance when they go to college. (LMAO....I'd love to see that law pass on the floor of the House. The Hasselbeck/Yale/Lohan Mandatory Underage Alcohol Consumption Bill For The Success and Betterment Of University Binge Drinking.)

As a far-right-leaning, very conservative Republican, she opposes gun control, ending the war, the morning after pill, and most other Democratic ideals. Her position on those topics should be respected and heard, but not shoved down the throats of other hosts, guests, and viewers alike. Her maniacal defense of George W. Bush comes off like a student defending her father the Principal. (Could she be the love child of GWB and...let's see...possibly Farrah Fawcett?!?! That would explain so much....) It almost seems as if she's been so brainwashed by Republican propaganda, that she's about to start her own church or something. The Church of Bush. (Hey, that would make a pretty good skit for Saturday Night Live, EH starting a church dedicated to the teachings of GWB, not unlike Tom Cruise and his Scientology bull&%$#......sorry, I digress....)Anyway, the bottom line is, it's fine to have strong opinions, but it's unprofessional to be rude and catty to people who disagree with you, as is so often the case on "The View" when Elisabeth opens her pie hole.

And I'm not alone in my judgement of this chick. The website has a mission statement, a petition, and a purpose.

As a disclaimer in my own defense, for people who might say this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I am very aware of my lack of knowledge on many (most?lol) topics, and I can admit that. I don't pretend to know it all, and I don't subject millions of people to my self-righteous bickering on national TV five days a week. (Only online in this blog occasionally....)

I'm not sure how to end this rant. I'd love to put something witty and catchy and humorous, but those characteristics aren't in keeping with the Elisabeth Hasselbeck theme. So I guess I'll just say, I think she may be the devil, which means apparently the devil doesn't wear Prada after all. She wears Puma.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

28 is the new 40

I went out Saturday night and had way too much to drink. It had been so long since I had done something like that, that I had temporarily forgotten how much my alcohol consumption tolerance has decreased since my younger days. It's now Thursday, and this is the first day since my night out that I feel back to normal. Pretty bad - a five day hangover, courtesy of six short hours of excess.

As I lay with a throbbing headache and nausea early this week, I began to think of how unmistakably old I feel. Back in the day, I could have drunk twice as much, stayed out half the night, and been fine the very next morning. What happened?? I'm still in my 20s!! (Not for much longer, granted, but still technically.)
So I started to take note of things that show my age and my place in life, and how having kids, being married, and growing up can make a 28-year old feel much, much older.

-- see above (5 day hangover)

-- I remember being 18 and taking two hours to get all gussied up, preparing to go to the liquor store, and hoping against all hope that the clerk would not ask me for ID. Now, though trips to the NSLC happen very seldom, they usually involve swinging by on my way home from the grocery store, dish-pan hands and all, frazzled hair and "mom jeans". And if the clerk asks me for ID, I strongly consider leaping over the counter and kissing him/her passionately on the lips.

-- My adult bedtime is much earlier than my teenage curfew.

-- Nice looking, young waiters call me "ma'am".

-- Going shopping used to be about enjoyable browsing and exciting sales, but with two squirming kids in tow, it has become an exercise in efficiency, patience, and survival.

-- Speaking of shopping, time, age, and experience have taught me a very important lesson: it's a courageous mother who braves Wal-Mart on Family Allowance day.

-- The make-up compacts, movie ticket stubs, and money previously found in my purse, have been replaced with an adequate supply of napkins, an emergency granola bar, and 16 dinkies.

-- Martha Stewart is my idol. And not for the purposes of bringing humor to this blog, I mean it. She's a genius and I love her. I'm serious.

-- My dream vacation, instead of including wine and dancing and romance, now involves hiring a babysitter, renting a hotel room, and sleeping for an uninterrupted three days.

-- Song stuck in my head in 1997: the new Backstreet Boys song. Song stuck in my head in 2007: the theme song from "The Backyardigans".

-- I can successfully feed a dog, wrestle a 2-year-old, tune out a 9-year-old, chop a green pepper, fold towels, make a phone call, and ponder the topic of my next blog - SIMULTANEOUSLY.

-- At times when I get mad at the kids, I give myself pause when I hear myself using the same threats my parents used on the exact same menacing tone.

-- I am more aware than ever that toilet paper, soap, and milk do not just fall out of the sky. Until you're on your own, you don't realize that these items have to be purchased.

-- The end of summer and the beginning of the school year are suddenly cause for great celebration.

-- Richard Gere has gone from "old guy my friend's mom likes", to "oddly sexy".

-- There are only three sure things in life: death, taxes, and massive, unrelenting piles of laundry.

-- A lot of responsibility comes with being Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.

-- I am fairly well-versed on the topics of "High School Musical", B-Daman, and Grand Theft Auto.

-- Who would have thought I could derive so much unabashed joy from throw pillows, kitchen appliances, and a nice console table?

-- If you watch enough Treehouse, you'll find yourself thinking about the strangest why Frank & Frank aren't in Special Ed, why Toopy hasn't addressed his obvious gender dysmorphia issues, and where the hell Max & Ruby's parents are.

-- No good comes of any conversation starting with the words "Visa", "Nova Scotia Power", or "Revenue Canada".

If you can't relate to at least one of the points above, I have to assume you're a single, childless, independently wealthy socialite with no responsibilities. Your obliviousness would almost be refreshing.

But for those of you who can relate, know that you're not alone. Lots can happen in 10 years, and, though we may not be capable of the same rowdy raucousness we once revelled in, we wear our stains and hangovers and stretch marks and frazzled hair like badges.

I've had my fill of freshman nonesense, and I'm glad that 28 is the new 40.
(I don't have the energy to have it any other way.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Color Purple

I saw the funniest political cartoon the other day. It was a huge picture of Oprah breastfeeding a baby Barack Obama. (Whoever writes/draws those things is a genius of John Stewart proportions.)

Oprah Winfrey is a very interesting subject. There is no middle ground with this woman - people either love her and adore her, or they despise her and want her off the air. But one thing is for certain: everyone knows who she is, and everyone has at least some opinion of her.

This is what I think.
I think women are much bigger fans of Oprah than men are, and I think there are two main reasons for this. First, Oprah is intimidating. She's a big personality, loud, unabashed, honest, rich, successful, powerful, with a zero poop-tolerance. She does not back down from dealing with tough issues that most people would choose to ignore. These traits must be difficult for some men to deal with. It is much easier for them to just call her names and roll their eyes at her, than it is to admit that she might just be more woman than they could handle, and could wipe the floor clean with them. Men have issues with that kind of thing. Sorry, men.
Secondly, Oprah attributes a great deal of human behavior to emotional and psychological influences, things that plenty of men don't want to discuss. "Mushy girl stuff" doesn't usually appeal to their practical nature, and Oprah loves talking about mushy girl stuff.
Anyway, I digress.

After laughing hysterically at this political cartoon, I started thinking about people's impression of Oprah. One thing that you often hear discussed, frequently, is that Oprah is racist, something I think is completely untrue. I know I'm supposed to be saying African-American (at least I think that's the politically correct terminology), but for the sake of not having to type those 16 characters over and over again, I'll use black....that should be ok for me to say since she often refers to herself as black. Oh well, I'll take my chances.
Oprah is black. A great number of her guests are also black. Plenty of the causes she supports and projects she's involved in have to do with issues in the black community. That this leads people to believe she's racist is complete hypocricy. I'm white. If someone told me to invision a woman who had been beaten by her husband, or a man who's beaten the odds and thrived with a severe disability, I would automatically picture a white woman and a white man. This has nothing to do with me being racist, it has to do with a tendancy to initially relate to people of my own race. It's not because I think that no black women are beaten by their husbands, nor is it because I don't think a black man could overcome a disability. So when Oprah's producers approach her with an idea for a show about great current musical performers, she might be first inclined to book Alicia Keys, where Dr. Phil might automatically think of Justin Timberlake. And when she's trying to book guests for a show about working mothers, the mothers she first pictures are probably going to be black. Do you see what I mean? It's about relating and familiarity and habit, rather than an intentional snub to white people. Maybe I haven't given the greatest explanation, but I'm sure someone catches my drift.
I also feel it necessary to mention how, 1)she is equally hard on every race and ethnicity when she smells B.S.; 2)she is eager to praise every race and ethnicity when she witnesses greatness, and; 3)she can do whatever she wants, since it's her TV show, and millions and billions of people are going to watch it regardless of what she does.

So here she is, Ms. O, publicly supporting a presidential candidate for the first time in her career, and he's black. Well guess what, I'm inclined to support Barack Obama too, and I'm white as the driven snow. Though I suspect our main reasons for liking him are different, I think we have one reason in common. Racism is a huge issue in the United States, even moreso than in Canada, I believe. What better way to turn all the back-woods, bigoted hillbillies on their ear, than to elect a black president? This might be an irresponsible reason, but it is excused by the fact that Mr. Obama is very intelligent and qualified, making him, in my opinion, an excellent candidate for Leader of the Free World. The fact that he's black is just icing on the cake for me, as I'm sure it is for Oprah as well, irresponsible or not.

I think racism is immature and petty. There are plenty of white people I love, and probably an equal number who I wish would get shot with a ball of their own snot. There are plenty of black people who are accomplished and outstanding, and plenty who are a pain in the ass. Character has nothing to do with race, and when people start to judge others based on character instead of race, the world will be a well-oiled machine.

It wouldn't matter if she was purple, I love Oprah. She's a smart lady with a good heart. I don't think she's racist at all. In fact, I think we share the same view of racism.

And what woman doesn't want to have something in common with Oprah?!?

Monday, August 27, 2007

If I Had A Million Dollars....

One of today's big headlines: "Single Winner in $314 Million Powerball Lottery"

Imagine. $314 million bucks now belongs to one person. Could be an old lady with a bunch of really lucky dogs. Could be a college senior who will now be drunk until February. One ticket, probably costing about two dollars, and that one person's life is changed forever.

My husband and I often talk about what we would do if we ever won the lottery, as I'm sure everybody has. Now don't get me wrong, I'll never ACTUALLY win the lottery, largely because I don't play (I don't have any luck - like I say, I wouldn't win at Bingo if I was the only person playing). Like the convenience-store-gamblers say, "You'll never win if you don't buy a ticket," so I've resigned myself to that fact, but it still doesn't stop us from daydreaming about it.

Just think about it for a minute. Let's say you're a family with a couple of kids and you win a much-needed million dollars. What would you really do with it?

The first sensible thing to do would be hire a financial planner, right? That's always been my train of thought, but maybe not with ONE million dollars. Give me a half hour and a big truck, and I could spend that much at Wal-Mart. So no financial planner for this amount. First, let's pay all our bills. The average Canadian family is over $70,000 in debt. So let's say you pay off your bills, your car, your credit cards, and your student loans, and let's say all that costs you $100,000 (which it probably doesn't...paying off every single debt would probably cost a lot more, but let's just go with a nice round number). And let's say you sold your house, getting rid of your mortgage. So you're at square one, with no debts whatsoever.

What do you do first? Plenty of people would say "build a house". As anyone who has built a house knows, this venture is very expensive, often more expensive than buying. And this new house wouldn't just be ANY house, it's your DREAM house, right? Come on, you're a millionaire!!! Can't be a millionaire and build a 1200 sqaure foot bungalow! So by the time you buy a nice piece of waterfront property, get all your permits, pay for your labor, materials, furniture, etc, etc, etc,'re out about...hmmm...I'd say about $400,000. Possibly a bit less if your dream house is not that fancy, possibly more if it's a real palace. So half of your money is gone already.

Now of course you're going to need a new car. At least one. A millionaire can't be seen driving around town in a Kia! So let's say $50,000 on some fancy new wheels (not including the GTO you promised to buy your husband if you ever won the lottery...and not including the two old muscle cars he wants to buy and restore for your two boys for when they're older...and not including a minivan, which you kind of need anyway). On second thought, maybe I need to revise that number to $100,000. Five vehicles will be very expensive, and I can afford it now, being a millionaire and all.

Now we have our dream house and our dream cars. What about a nice vacation? St. Tropez, anyone? Let's go! Flights, hotel, meals, entertainment, insurance, souveniers, ground transportation.....hmmm...for four people, plus a friend for my son, plus someone to watch the baby so we can go out for a night or two while on vacation....I'll say this trip would cost an easy $25,000.

So now we're back from vacation, and we need to get down to business with this money. Our kids will, if they know what's good for them, be going to college someday. Considering how much it cost when I went, I'd be surprised if a million dollars would pay for it all in 2016. But let's put aside $100,000 for each of the kids, as I'm sure that will pay for tuition at least. And let's also assume our two kids are going to each have two kids of their own, so we have to put aside a few bucks for the grandkids too...let's say $25,000 each? There's another $100,000.

Hold on now, I better tally up these numbers. Hmm....I only have $175,000 left. Didn't I have a million dollars just a second ago? I didn't even go shopping yet!

Ok, now we have to make a few investments for the long term. $50,000 on the right stocks should do it, I think.

So that leaves me with $125,000. Still seems like a lot of money, but I have to give some away. And, being as their "favorite" sister/brother/aunt/neice/cousin/etc is now a millionaire, nobody is expecting $50 in a card, if you know what I mean. So let's figure in at least ten people, and give them $10,000 each. There's another $100,000.

Now I have $25,000 left, plus whatever I got for selling my house. I haven't given any money to charity yet, I haven't paid for the upkeep, maintenence, and operating costs of my fleet of vehicles and my huge, electricity-consuming house. I haven't paid my taxes. I haven't even bought groceries yet.

Suddenly one million dollars doesn't seem like very much, does it?

Winning $1,000,000 in the 6/49 isn't the same today as it would have been twenty years ago. Many of us have spent a million dollars and more in our lifetime, and certainly aren't rich. It makes you wonder if winning that much would really be enough. Surely, if I won a million dollars, I wouldn't be building a house worth five-hundred grand, but when you hear that someone won the lottery, they're automatically "The Rich People", and they're expected to live a certain lifestyle. I have a feeling that a millionaire's only brother would be a little bitter getting $10,000. And $50,000 doesn't seem like very much to invest on your future. So these numbers I have used as examples might be skewed somewhat, but we can all agree on one thing - it doesn't take long for money to disappear. If not on houses and cars and vacations, it would go somewhere else, and fast. To live the life of a celebrity, to have every material possession we want, would one million dollars be enough? Probably not.

Still, if anyone has a spare million they're willing to part with, I would be happy to take it off their hands.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Home of Our Hearts (if not our careers)

It probably seems like I'm harping, but I love Cape Breton. In my opinion, there is no greater place to be from, and no better place to live.

This ideology is great in theory, but sometimes it isn't very practical.

It's no secret that Cape Breton isn't where you go when you're looking for a good job. Just the opposite - so many locals unwillingly relocate in order to find one. My brother loves Cape Breton, and yet he toils in Alberta, like so many others, making money, living, and missing home. Look at all the working parents who have to leave their families in Cape Breton to make a living out West for months at a time, sometimes longer, just because there isn't enough opportunity at home to sustain themselves.

During my workforce days years ago in Cape Breton, I never really had a problem getting a job because, for awhile at least, I was in the food service industry. Lowly waitress to some, but I defy you to find me a more profitable minimum wage job. I counted on tips as part of my take-home pay, and without them I would have been on welfare, like so many other people I knew. As I got older and moved to the city, I began to look for a job which utilized my (very expensive) education. In the Metro Halifax area, those jobs are a bit easier to come by, but in Cape Breton, they're almost non-existant. This is what leads me to my latest rant, as I completely understand where all the displaced Cape Bretoners are coming from, now more than ever.

My husband has a good job, and I've been on indefinite maternity leave for a few years. I decided recently that I would like to go out into the workforce again, and we prepared ourselves for the ramifications of that decision. This is what we discovered: for me to put my baby in day care (which we would have to be put on a waiting list to acquire), and to have my older son receive after school care, would cost a minimum of $45 per day. Per day. That equals $225 per week, and that's money I have to make just to justify leaving the house. It would cost even more on days where my oldest son has no school.

Then figure into that the money I would need to spend on clothes for work, the extra expense of packing four different lunches, transportation to and from the sitter, and then to and from work. The stress of getting two kids up and fed and packed and dressed and ready at the crack of dawn, and finding the time to make myself look presentable as well. I also have to take into account the loss of stability we now get to enjoy, since my youngest spends all day at home with his mom, and his brother gets to come home every day after school.

I ask you, is all of that worth $7.50 per hour?

Imagine that daily ritual, figure in the expense, and ask yourself if making $56.00 per day, before deductions, is worth it. That's $281.25 per week, again, before deductions. After deductions, it would likely cost me more to go to work than it does to stay home.

Sadly, there are plenty of you who don't have to imagine it at all, you live it every day. When I look on the JobBank today, there are 33 available jobs listed, which I can tell you is the most I've seen in a long time. Of these jobs, the majority are in the Port Hawkesbury area, making it even costlier for those in rural surrounding communities to get work. A full 23 jobs are either part time, seasonal, or term positions, and 28 of the 33 posted jobs are either minimum wage or just above. Only 2 jobs are significantly more, both term positions, and both in the $10 per hour range. The wild card is a job with the local Regional Development Agency, which requires 3-5 years of experience as a General Manager of a Transit System. I'm assuming, since it says the wage is to be negotiated, that the person they hire will be paid quite a bit more than $10 per hour. That's great for the person from Sydney or Halifax who will apply and transfer here to take the job. The online offerings this week are comparable to the normal selection, though there are usually fewer jobs available in the off-season. Welcome to the Strait Area.

And so how are we expected to live, to raise our kids, to get ahead in life, as the cashier at Dollarama? I mean no disrespect to those people toiling away at their jobs, just making ends meet, or maybe not making ends meet at all. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for people who are ambitous enough to get out of bed every morning and go to work every day at a job that they despise, underpaid, overworked, disrespected, and discouraged. To have paid the Nova Scotia Community College lots of money for a diploma in Office Administration, and to be cleaning rooms at a hotel in town for $8.00 per hour. To be on your feet as a retail sales clerk for eight and nine hours a day, and to not be able to afford to send your kid camping with his friends because you're broke after you pay your babysitter. I feel for all these people, because I've been there before. I'm fortunate now that I'm in a position where I have a choice, but so many other working parents don't have a choice at all, they have a responsibility to take care of their families, and they do it, like it or not.

So after searching and debating and pondering, I've decided to stay home with my kids instead of getting a job. A second income would have been nice, required maybe, but not at the necessary cost.

To all of you who are working hard, I admire your resolve and determination.

To the government of Nova Scotia, take notice. People who are residents of a region with high unemployment are often thought of as lazy, but really that is probably not the case. We need jobs that pay us for the work we do, that allow us to support ourselves and our families. There isn't much point in discouraging people from moving to Alberta and staying in Cape Breton - you're not leaving us much choice. A power bill, a litre of gas, and a carton of milk costs just as much for someone making $15,000 per year as it does for the guys at the mill who make $80,000. Giving us a break on the cost of day care would be nice, but even that doesn't help the people with no children. We need the government to raise the minimum wage, give tax break incentives to companies for paying higher salaries, and create jobs for qualified individuals. The time is now, so that all people living in the Strait Area, and in Cape Breton, can prosper and stay where they belong - HOME.

Back To School

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's official - summer is almost over. This weekend at Wal-Mart, I was greeted by a huge wall of school supplies. The end is near.

In a way, I'm looking forward to the beginning of the school year. At the very least, it promises to lessen the frequency of the "I'm bored" speech I have to hear every day. Thousands of dollars worth of tvs, vcrs, dvd players, mp3 players, gaming consoles, toys, bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, sports equipment, on and on and on - and they're bored. All of them, sitting in their houses, driving their parents nuts with "I'm bored". Twenty-eight degrees, sun splitting the rocks, pool, trampoline, a dozen friends nearby, and "I'm bored". When I was nine, my parents sent us outside after breakfast and didn't see us again until supper, when they usually had to come looking for us. Kids these days, I don't know if they want us to dress up in clown costumes and entertain them all day, but they certainly don't seem to realize how lucky they are. My son didn't believe me when I told him that going for a walk was something us "old folk" used to do for fun. Perish the thought.

Anyway, as much as the prospect of school is relieving to me, there is one aspect that makes me cringe: packing my son's lunch.

At my house, we have a hot lunch. It's probably not fancy, it's probably not elaborate, but it's hot. Every now and then I make sandwiches, but usually it's Kraft Dinner, chicken noodle soup, hot dogs, or something of the like. When packing my son's lunch for school, I like to ensure that he eats something hot there too. Again, nothing fancy, but a can of ravioli, a pizza pocket, even leftover steak subs from supper. I would think that a school would try to accommodate students and parents in this pursuit.

But no. Now the rule is "no use of microwaves", no heating food at all. Last year, the first time I sent my son to school with a container of leftovers to be heated, it was returned with a note that said not to send something like that again, and that I owed the cafeteria $3.20 for the meal they gave him as a substitution. I was not pleased.

So that leaves me with two choices: no hot food, or buy from the cafeteria. The latter might be an option if it were a little cheaper, but show me someone who can afford to spend $20 per week on grease food, plus pay for snacks and drinks on top of that, PER CHILD, and I'll show you someone who doesn't realize how rich they actually are. I won't pay it, and I'm sure the majority of parents can't afford to pay it either.

The other option leaves me with a very limited menu of cold food. One day I sent him with a bag full of chunks of pepperoni and cheese, and he told me the cafeteria workers had suggested his mother send a more balanced, nutritious lunch. Nice. Again, I was not pleased.

And what's left? Ok, sandwiches.

Let's see...he's allergic to tuna, and doesn't like egg or chicken salad. Sliced ham, flakes of ham...maybe turkey if things are really desperate. And this is what he's supposed to eat every single day for hundreds of days? A sandwich made with meat that's been soaked in brine for weeks? He is not pleased, nor do I blame him.

When I was a kid, we took a peanut butter and jam sandwich to school every single day, and we didn't complain. I can say this loud and proud because every other kid had one as well. The flavor of jam might have varied a bit, from strawberry to raspberry perhaps, but that was about as exotic as it got.

But that was twenty years ago.

Now, lunch time at an elementary school is much different. My kids don't have PB&J every single day for lunch when they're at home, so I don't expect my son to eat it every single day at school either. But even if I did, I wouldn't be allowed. No peanut butter. No peanuts. No nuts of any kind. Nothing that has ever come into contact with anything resembling a nut. No peanut butter on toast in the morning for breakfast, as the smell of peanut butter on a child's breath is apparently harmful as well. No homemade peanut butter cookies, or any other cookie with walnuts, pecans, almonds.

I'm sure parents of children with peanut allergies think the peanut ban is a nessessary step for a school to take. And I know that peanut allergies can be very serious, if not deadly. I feel for these parents and children. But 1 child (maybe) in a school of 450 students, and a common household food is banished from our lives? It's not anthrax, it's peanut butter. It's not airborne, it's injested. If you're allergic, don't eat it. If your child is too young to take the necessary precautions, the teachers and staff should be responsible for ensuring the student does not come into contact with any nutty substance. My son is allergic to seafood and shellfish, and his throat closes over when he is exposed to either of them in any form. I don't expect the schools to go on a witch hunt for tuna lovers, nor do I expect the school, it's staff, it's students, and the parents to change their eating habits and grocery orders; I expect him and his teacher to be aware and careful.

I may seem insensitive, but that's just the way I see it. I've spoken to many, many parents who feel the same way. People hesitate to admit it, but banning peanuts, or any other food, is a bad precendent to set. What's next, banning chips for the kids battling childhood obesity? Banning windows for the kids allergic to pollen? In my thirteen years of school, there was not a single peanut fatality. Was it just a fluke that everyone survived? Or was it that, back then, nobody seemed to overreact the way they do now, people didn't go to such drastic measures, and we all turned out just fine? It may be a bit taboo to even complain about the peanut patrol, but too bad. Someone has to do it.

However, all the complaining in the world doesn't rid me of my lunch-packing woes. I want to give my son a proper dinner without putting myself in the poor house, is that too much to ask?

What does the "student fee" pay for? Do a few microwaves use up so much electricity that the school doesn't have it in it's budget to nuke a few bowls every lunch hour? I wonder if the teachers are allowed to use the microwave? (Oh that's right, there's a private one in the staff room.) Should the staff be allowed to criticize parents on their choice of lunches, when the alternatives we're given are so limited? Next time my son comes home with a story like that, I'll be marching down to the school and telling the cafeteria lady to either fire up the microwave or keep her opinions to herself. And probably not in words that sunny and cheerful.

If you have any suggestions for a good lunch, please let me know, I'd love to have a few new ideas. Pretty soon, I'll be sending him to school with bread and butter. Cold bread and butter.

Not So Merry, After All

Over the past few days, I have been very apprehensive about writing this next blog entry, as I do not want anyone to misinterpret my intentions. Since I have been unable to get this topic out of my head, I'm going to take my chances and write it anyway. I do want to add, however, that I do not know any facts of this case beyond what I have heard in the media, nor do I, in any way, accuse any particular person of being responsible or having any involvement in this crime.

December 2005 was a great time for my family. It was my baby boy's first Christmas, the kids had loads of gifts under the tree, and I made my first big Christmas dinner. At the time, we lived in a nice little subdivision in Timberlea, and we liked to drive around to look at all the brightly decorated houses. On the 27th, my husband went Boxing Day shopping in Bayers Lake, and I baked his birthday cake (he was celebrating his....ahem....seventh consecutive "28th birthday" the following day). I remember looking at the clock several times that afternoon, wondering if I would finish his cake before he returned home.

On the morning of the 28th, the first thing I noticed outside was a police cruiser. Since seeing the police was a rarity on our street, I found it even more strange to see several of them drive by within an hour or two, as well as an RCMP helicopter overhead. When my husband called home from work, I told him about the noticeable police presence, and he dropped the bomb on me: a body had been found in a car parked at the school. A what? A body? In Timberlea?!? I didn't believe him. I humoured him and hung up.

His claim was confirmed on the news that evening. Paula Gallant, originally from Cape Breton, a teacher at Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea school, mother of a baby girl, had been murdered. I was shocked, confused and horrified. Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I began to follow the story as details were released, as I'm sure most residents of Timberlea did. My son attended BLT, where Ms. Gallant taught grade three. The school, and her house, were so close to mine, that anyone with a good arm could throw a rock and hit either building. This crime was a little too close to home for my liking, a feeling I shared with, I'm sure, plenty of others.

What made it even more terrible for me was the fact that she had a baby the same age as mine. The thought of a mother being taken away from a child that age was heartbreaking. It still is. If anything threatened my ability to come home to my kids, I would scream and fight with such fury that my attackers would probably flee, fearing for their lives. I can't help but think that, while I was baking a cake and looking at the clock in the early evening of December 27th, 2005, Ms. Gallant was doing just that, fighting for her life. It bothers me to think about that.

And here we are, almost two years later, and her killer is still roaming free. Maybe driving past us on the highway, maybe behind us in line at the grocery store, nobody knows. Her little girl is without a mother, her sisters and family are still grieving, and I'm still at home thinking about it, often. As much as I hate wondering what happened to that poor woman, two other points make me even crazier. My preamble and question is this: we lived in a community where everyone knew your business. They knew what kind of underwear you wore by looking at your clothes hanging out on the line. They knew if the neighbors' teenaged kids got home at 3am. They knew if the guy in the blue house had a drug problem, if the lady who drove the white Malibu was cheating on her husband, and if the people with the loud Yorkshire terrier screamed at their kids all the time. After the fact, the neighborhood hairdressers, storekeepers, and busy-bodies whispered rampant speculation and knew all the comings and goings at Ms. Gallant's house. My question is, how is it possible that so many people are so nosy, observant and intrusive, but NOT A SINGLE PERSON SAW ANYTHING THAT DAY WHICH WOULD HELP THE POLICE?? From what I heard and read, whoever was responsible for Ms. Gallant's death returned her car to BLT, a very visible school parking lot, empty during Christmas vacation, and drove away in another vehicle. I'd be willing to bet that, had someone been parked there for an illicit rendezvous of some sort, people up one street and down another would know all the details by the next morning. But how did no one see anything in THIS case, when it matters? Very frustrating.

And another thing. There are cases in the past few years which have not left the forefront of the media for more than a few weeks. The only place I have read about possible breaks in the Gallant case is, sadly, in "Frank" magazine. I'm sure this fact must infuriate her family. Had I been the victim of a horrible crime like this, I like to think that my husband would not rest or shut up until the killer was apprehended. He would be crawling up the leg of Steve Murphy's pants to get on the 6pm news every night, just to remind people of what happened and how they might be able to help. Ms. Gallant's sisters have seemed very diligent, but there is only so much that one or two women can do. It is up to everyone else, Paula Gallant's neighbors, friends, colleagues, and mourners, to keep her case in the forefront of our minds and, hopefully, the media. Someone knows something, and with enough scrutiny, pressure, protest, and persistance, that someone or something will eventually surface.

Until it does, I will keep Ms. Gallant, her daughter, and her family in my thoughts. I implore you to do the same.


With Lindsey back in rehab, I feel it necessary to throw in my own towel and make an admission.

Hi. My name is Gina, and I'm a pop-oholic.

Everyone together: "Hi Gina."

They say the first step is admitting your problem, so I'm coming clean.

Though I have always enjoyed pop "recreationally", I didn't start "using" on a regular basis until I was nineteen. My drug of choice has always been cola, diet cola to be specific. I will have a regular Coke or Pepsi in a pinch, but only if the diet variety is unavailable. My taste has become more refined through the years, and now my preference leans toward Big 8 Diet Cola, even above the sweeter, more bubbly Diet Pepsi, which used to be my favorite poison. The whole 7-Up, Ginger Ale, Cream Soda, of alternatives would save me in an emergency, much the same as we'd all eat grass and worms if regular food were obliterated and we needed to prevent starvation. So for the sake of this rant, we'll say I'm addicted to diet cola, and leave other flavors out of it.

Pop is much more than just a beverage to me. It can be, and often is, the ultimate thirst quencher; the perfect way to wash down a good meal; a meal replacement, if need be; a partner to a ciggarette; a stress reliever; a nightcap; a cool breeze on a hot summer day, if you will. I look forward to my first drink of the day, and I miss it terribly when it's gone. While most people sip a glass of pop and place their empty cup in the sink, I relish every part of a good drink of pop, from beginning to end. Be it frosty, fresh, warm, or flat, it delights my palate each and every time. As most people can't live without their daily "double double", I would be a wreck if I didn't have my daily fix of pop.

Some of you might take offence to the comparison I am making between pop and drug addiction. While I appreciate that drug and alcohol addiction are very serious and difficult beasts to tackle, and while I use this comparison for humour's sake, being addicted to pop has it's physical and psychological side effects as well. Anyone who has ever quit (or tried to quit) can tell you - it's not easy. I have only tried to quit once, unsuccessfully, after hearing that the chemicals in Coke dissolved a penny or fueled a 747 or some such nonsense. The few days I went without pop were painful, anxiety-ridden, and unforgettable. I decided to go cold turkey and switch to water, figuring that my body shouldn't be subjected to the ravages of digesting airplane fuel. In hindsight, I think downing a pint of pure unleaded gasoline would have been easier on my body than the absence of pop. I had splitting headaches. I felt completely drained of energy, fatigued, and lethargic. I was on edge and cranky. I had trouble sleeping. I joked about going through withdrawls, when really that's exactly what was happening. Only after I gave in to my craving and gulped a massive bottle of diet cola did I feel complete and healthy again. Quitting smoking, known to be one of the most difficult pursuits, was easier for me than quitting pop.

And so I sit before you, still a hopeless pop addict. There is no hope in sight for me. If anyone can advise me on a positive course of action, I would be greatful. A good 12-step program maybe? Don't bother telling me to quit cold turkey - I tried that, see above. And the switching to 7-Up or flavored, carbonated water thing, that won't work either, as has been suggested to me in the past. When milk goes down in price I might have a fighting chance, but as long as I can buy a million litres of pop for three bucks at Superstore, I can't see a salvation in my near future. So if you've quit, or know someone who has, please let me know how. As much as I dearly love my pop, I'm ready to fight the beast. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Wish me luck.

And on a related note, contrary to the recent actions of the news media, my recovery/self-destruction will not, thankfully, have to be the first thing Steve Murphy reads tonight at 6pm.

Lucky Me

Checking online news from cities around the country, I came across these headlines.

From Calgary: "Stabbing rampage wasn't meant to kill anyone, police say"

From Montreal: "Mental illness to be defense in Laval cop slaying"

From Edmonton: "Police ask for help in tragic carjacking case"

I could go on, but you get the point.

And now this, the top story on the news from 101.5 The Hawk, my local radio station. I swear to you, this is the top story:

"Lobster Stolen in Arichat on Weekend, RCMP seeking info about crustacean bandit"
almost wish I had written this blog entry last week when the top story was a missing tricycle (I thought it was amusing). That's the story that got me thinking about how truly lucky we are in this part of Cape Breton.

I'm not trivializing these lobster or tricycle thefts, as I'm sure the victims have felt the impact of their losses. However, I think even they would admit that, in the grand scheme of things, their loss could have been much greater.

Growing up, I remember being so desperate to graduate and get out of my go to a big city, somewhere with more action and people and noise. I remember thinking, "this place is so BORING, nothing ever happens here." At the time, I didn't realize what a blessing it is to be able to say that. I think the biggest crime ever committed in the history of my hometown of River Bourgeois, at least in my lifetime, was the attempted robbery of the local Credit Union. Two men got away with a few dollars, and I'll never forget us crowding around the family TV set, watching the ATV reporter broadcast the story from the front of the Credit Union. I'm pretty sure that was the first time our community had been on the news, and it was all very exciting, since I was only about 8 years old. I could be wrong about the year this took place, but I'm sure it must have been 20 years ago. The fact that a 20-year-old attempted robbery (involving no violence) still sticks out in my mind as a huge crime in my community - that is really saying something about where we live.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is Pleasantville. We have our share of abuse cases, vandalism, domestic violence, and fatal car accidents, as does every community in Canada and abroad. Though these cases are largely unreported, their existence is a fact of life in rural Cape Breton. But luckily, we are spared the violent, random crime that is becoming so common in larger cites and towns.

Having lived away from Cape Breton, for several years and in several different places, I have had to adjust my fear and paranoia accordingly, depending on the city. Our family just relocated from Lower Sackville, a beautiful community, and, in my opinion, a perfect place to raise a family if your job is in the Halifax Regional Municipality. In Sackville, we locked our car and our front door. My son was not allowed to leave the small cul-de-sac where we lived, and had to check in with me every hour on the hour when he was playing outside. I never left my kids in the car alone, even just to run into the corner store. My son's bike was locked up every night. The fear of child abduction was always on my mind. The fear of mugging and gun violence was always in the back of my mind, especially walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot at night with a million bags. In general, I was more alert, more aware and more wary of the people around me. Nothing bad ever happened while we lived in Sackville, but it was "the city", and you can never be too careful, I decided.

Our mindset in Cape Breton is much different. I can tell you that, in the six months we lived in River Bourgeois, neither our car nor our house has been locked even once. (Since moving to Port Hawkesbury we've been locking up, so don't get any big ideas) My son can go play outside for hours without me having to worry about where he is. There might be half a dozen cars that drive on our road the whole day, so traffic isn't an issue. I can run into Bucky's garage for milk and even chat with the clerk for a few minutes, without having to worry about someone coming along and swiping my kids out of the car. My sons bikes, and many other toys, are outside in the yard every night, and never once have we woken up fearing they might have been stolen while we slept. What my son might consider "a stranger" is, in all likelihood, the father of a girl I went to high school with, or a woman I used to babysit for. When I see a bunch of shady looking teenagers on the street, chances are they're not going to accost me, they're probably going to say hello because I know their older brother or something. And gun violence? My only fear of guns is that I'd probably suffer a heart attack and die of shock if I heard of gun-toting criminals roaming the streets of Richmond County. Maybe it's naive of me to think that I can live here with this sense of security, but history speaks for itself, and I'll take my chances for now.

The moral of my little story is this: consider yourself blessed if you're lucky enough to reside in our peaceful little corner of the world. Remember that not everyone is as fortunate to raise their kids in such a safe place. If you leave, don't assume every town and city is as safe as ours.
Appreciate living in Cape Breton!

Even if it is boring.

Why I Don't Watch Canadian Idol

Last night at 10:30, as I was fruitlessly channel-surfing, my husband asked why I wasn't watching Canadian Idol. It then occurred to me - that's actually a pretty good question, for a lot of Canadians.

I am a rabid American Idol fan. I watch it religiously, anticipating the start of the season, analyzing every performance, critiquing and praising the appropriate contestants and judges. I may not be a music expert, but when it comes to that show, I defy you to tell me I'm anything but. When the season is over, my television psyche always feels just a tiny bit empty and under-stimulated. The Canadian Idol season begins right after American Idol ends, so it would seem to be a natural transition, wouldn't it? Yet, for some reason, though I have sporadically watched a season or two, I've never been able to enjoy our Canadian version nearly as much.

You have to give it to them - the Canadian Idol people try extremely hard to make their show as much like AI as possible. And on paper, the two are strikingly similar. The opening music, the million audition blooper episodes, the metrosexual host, big-name guests, the obnoxious judge. But there is something lacking in the Canuck counterpart that the Americans have mastered --- production value.

AI performances (after the herd has been thinned) are taped at a huge studio in Los Angeles; the same one, in fact, that is used by Deal or No Deal, Dancing With The Stars and formerly Hollywood Squares. This is not an impressive fact in and of itself, but when you compare that studio with the dorm-room feel of the John Bassett Theatre in Toronto where CI is taped, the difference is glaringly noticeable. Couple this with the grandiose AI finale at the prestigious Kodak Theatre, and us Canadians look more like folks putting on a variety concert in a school gymnasium.

Then you look at the judges' credentials.
Simon Cowell is a record executive, behind several multi-million dollar grossing musical acts, and responsible for over 70 number one records.

Randy is a Grammy winner, producer for some of music's most well-known and successful stars, and the head of A&R and talent scouting at one of the biggest record labels in the United States.

Paula, as much as we might hate to admit it, has sold over 30 million albums, won numerous industry awards, and holds us all guilty of tapping our foot to at least one of her hits over the years.

And who do we have?
Farley Flex, who was a well-known radio personality (supposedly) and who is responsible for the likes of Maestro Fresh Wes. Nice one.
Jake Gold takes credit for the Tragically Hip, which I suppose is seen by some as an accomplishment, but could also be a stroke of luck, considering his success since.
Sass Jordan had a few songs which I'm sure are considered hits by her and those who like her, but her biggest similarity to Paula is her over-medicated rambling and MILF appeal.
And Zack Werner, while trying desperately to embody the spirit of Simon Cowell, is merely using big words and being rude to deflect attention away from his own failed music career.

Granted, I may seem to be rather critical of our homegrown judges, but I think results speak for themselves. Winners, even runners-up, of AI have sold millions of albums worldwide, won Oscars, and are enjoying careers in every area of the entertainment industry. Can you name two winners of Canadian Idol? Do you own any of their albums? Could you even pick them out of a lineup? Most people can't. The Canadian judges just can't seem to pick 'em like the US trio. Either they don't have the same eye for star quality, or they're not looking for it at all. I can't name two Canadian Idol contestants, winners included, who would have even made the top 24 of American Idol. Eva Avila might have sneaked through day one the first round, but the rest would have been home in tears an hour after their first audition. Can you picture the likes of Ryan Malcolm getting past Simon Cowell?

And don't even get me started on the band. Orin Issacs (of "Mike Bullard" fame, for those of you who remember) and his squad don't even hold a candle to Ricky Minor and the American Idol house band. Watching AI performances, with spot-on reditions, professional musicians and sometimes full orchestra, makes CI shows look like open-mic at your local coffee house. It's really quite sad.

But I think the biggest problem has to do with the talent pool.

Now before you all get your bloomers in a bunch, I'm not saying that there is less talent in Canada than in the States. I know that to be false, or at least I believe it to be false. In Cape Breton alone there are hundreds of people who would put on a better show than Kelly Clarkson any day of the week. The problem has to do with American vanity and Canadian simplicity.
Americans are obsessed with celebrity. The women spend thousands trying to look more like the Pussycat Dolls. Even men are going out to get abdominal implants to look more Brad Pitt-ish. Canadians are image-consumers too, but not to nearly the same extent as our Southern neighbors. Everyone in America wants to be a star. Worse yet, lots of them think they ARE stars who just haven't been discovered yet. That's why you see so many thousands of scantily-clad teenies flock to the auditions down South, ever-so-confident in their talent, however mediocre it may be. When given the opportunity, they'll splash their bits across the screen, in hopes of garnering enough public acceptance to generate the almighty dollar. Works like a charm, too. The United States has an audience full of these people, people who will lap up all the showing off, the strip-teasing, the lights, camera & action of it all. Canada has these people as well - I'm guilty as charged. But, on the whole, Canada is different than the States. Canadian auditions don't have the same percentage of pre-pubescent teens writhing around to "Like A Virgin." More of them are singing melodic tunes to showcase their voice moreso than their potential sex appeal. A lot of the time, the contestants pick classic Canadian tunes. Most of the kids are modest, appreciative of praise, and accepting of rejection, however disappointing it may be. Very seldom do we see a bitter contestant swearing and vowing their revenge next year. It's a different attitude, a different mindset, a different industry.

And the problem with this? The Canadian Idol people are trying to market their show too much like American Idol, and the result comes off as a cheap, campy imitation. We don't have the market to support a Britney or Christina in Canada. I don't think our culture is interested. A Nelly Furtado? Shania? I guess so, but those two are flukes. "Proud Canadians" who live in Los Angeles. Who had the personal and business contacts to infiltrate the U.S. and rarely look back, save for a few magazine interviews. Canadians take more pride in the Jimmy Rankins, Natalie McMasters, and Gordie Sampsons - the people who, though they may travel, always know, and will proudly and unabashedly admit, where they came from. No one wants to invest their time, interest, and loyalty on another flash-in-the-pan Mandy-Moore-wannabe, who is bound to fall on her face as soon as the show has ended it's season. There are people who watch Canadian Idol, but it will never reach the same heights as it's American counterpart. Until they change the forum from pop to rock or traditional music, it will always be just another failed attempt to Americanize our country - and I dont think people want that as much as they think they do. Not unless it's done right, which Canadian Idol is not.

Some may argue that Canadian Idol is the most popular show in the history of Canadian television, and they're right, it does have plenty of viewers. (So does Corner Gas, and I wouldn't be too quick to classify that as a pop culture juggernaut either....but I digress...) It's the follow-through that counts with a show like this. Every Canadian man, woman and child could watch every week - but if nobody goes out and buys the impending album, what's the point? It's defeating the whole purpose. What good is supporting and rooting for a contestant, voting till your fingers are numb, and then forgetting about them as soon as you turn off the TV? That's what Americans do differently: the majority of people are voting for the person who's music they want to hear, who they're willing to invest in, and the voting has resulted in the creation of musical sensations. In Canada, we vote for "that sweet little girl from New Brunswick"...or "insert home province here." We're caught up in the novelty of watching all the kids get on the stage and being able to decide the winner. We're not nearly as concerned over who the best singer is, or whether they have a legitimate chance at a music career. It's the same thing year after year after year, and it's getting very old.

Until Sass decides to kick it up a notch and starts making out with one of the contestants, until a Speedo-clad Ben Mulrooney gets in a wrestling match onstage with Farley, until they hire a drag-queen to pole dance in the corner and bang a gong after a crappy performance....Canadian Idol just won't hold my attention. I'll continue watching American Idol, marvelling at the pomp and chauvinism of it all, and being thoroughly entertained. I even bought the Chris Daughtry album.